After seeing star center Nikola Jokic get the coronavirus overseas and their practice facility shut down by the pandemic, the Nuggets are now headed on a bigger fool’s errand. They’re bound for America’s new epicenter of COVID-19 for a quixotic championship chase inside a bubble, the NBA version of “It’s a Small (Basketball) World.”
Hey, what could possibly go wrong? Is this a really a smart idea?
“We’re not putting a gun to anybody’s head,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said Wednesday.
During a video conference with reporters, I asked Malone: Does he think resuming this NBA season is worth it, considering obvious health risks, long weeks of isolation from loved ones and the weighty social issues too hot for America to ignore?
“Do I think it’s worth it? I’ll be honest, in the three months since the season was suspended, depending on the day, the week, the month, I probably would have a different answer. Part of me wants to get back and to see what we’re capable of doing as a team. With resumption of play, can we be a source of calm, in terms of having sports back? I think a lot people are chomping at the bit to see the NBA get back in action (with) all the great players that we have and to eventually crown a champion. To have a season just stop midway, unfinished, is kind of hard to imagine,” Malone said.
“But at the same time there are some many things going on, from a health standpoint as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc around the world, as well as the social unrest and the fight for a stop to police brutality and racism across the board. I think it’s the right thing to do (to play). I think it’s going to be a challenge.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo, the presumptive MVP of this strange NBA year, doesn’t want to hear a championship during a virus-shortened season will not shine as brightly as rings won in seasons past.
“A lot of people say there’s gonna be a star next to this championship,” Antetokounmpo said. “I feel like, at the end of the day, this is gonna be the toughest championship you could ever win, because the circumstances are really, really tough right now.”
With all due respect, any knucklehead worrying if there should be an asterisk next the name of the 2020 NBA champion needs to find a better hobby.
An asterisk? The NBA should declare it a major victory if the league finishes playoffs that aren’t marred by a major coronavirus outbreak or, heaven forbid, a death of anyone associated with a team or among blue-collar staffers working inside the bubble.
“If we have a lot of cases, we’re going to stop,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in an interview with “Time” magazine. “You cannot run from this virus.”
But the league is going to try to stay one step ahead of COVID-19. This is a risk worth taking only because the alternative is for the NBA to take its ball and go home until the pandemic is defeated by effective therapies or a vaccine.
After spending last weekend in Florida on family business, I can tell you: While the humidity is everywhere, response to the virus varies widely from one block to the next, ranging from intense COVID-paranoia to devil-may-care indiscretion.
For example: Less than a mile from where a masked desk clerk sat behind a plexiglass window and cautiously asked hotel guests to check in on a credit-card machine positioned six feet away, there were three dozen guys laughing at social-distancing rules while hanging on a street corner during a balmy Friday night.
Maybe that’s to be expected in a state where beaches open and close on whims of government leadership so inconsistent regular peeps don’t know whom to trust or what to believe, even as coronavirus cases rise rapidly in Florida.
How secure can the Nuggets feel in the bubble?
“I guess I feel fairly confident, because I’m willing to go,” Malone said.
Well, good luck and safe travels, Mr. Malone.
“I appreciate that, Kiz,” he replied.
Prior to takeoff on a flight bound for Orlando next week, I suggest every member of the Nuggets traveling party wears a mask that not only covers both mouth and nose but eyes, as well.
Because it will require blind faith to believe this basketball mission has any real chance to succeed.
The Nuggets are 30-1 long shots to win the championship.
But I’m not certain the NBA has much better odds of finishing the playoffs and crowning a champion before COVID-19 kicks the league’s asterisk.